Sponsored by Nakanojo Tourism Association
Located on the upper stream of the Shima river, under the watchful eyes of the encasing mountains, lies a small village; one filled with more bewilderment, mystery and wonder than your curious mind can handle.
Shima Onsen may be a relatively small area but it’s almost impossible not to loose yourself a little here. The streets transport you back to a time and a place that feels like bygone history, yet at the same time like somewhere completely new, mystical and magical. It’s like stepping into a fantasy story book and you’re the main character. And it’s not only the uniquely archaic buildings that give you this feeling. It’s the people too. With each new person you pass, a new layer of the story opens itself up to you. Whether it be the kind stranger in the kimono you asked for directions who pulled you away from a slowly moving car or the construction workers who were tearing into a graffitied wall that looked like someones old kitchen, or even the suited man at the bus stop drinking his vending machine coffee. The people were scarce but each one added another dimension to my experience and I remember all of them.
Ochiai Street: The vacant shop with the low ceiling, creepy old pachinko and wood man.
Ochiai street is filled with rows of archaic structures and old styled shops which, although were quaint and quirky by day, turned pretty creepy at night. The jaunty, crooked shops cast shadows like demons along the walls and floors, causing my heart to race more than a few times, and the looming glow of the old fashioned lights hummed in the distance, illuminating the emptiness inside these old, wooden buildings. You don’t see anyone after dark, except the occasional dog walker who, considering your recent walk through the shadows, you didn’t actually think was a real person to start with.
The archaic buildings only deepen the atmosphere. The creepy old pachinko place with a few dozen machines, the old wood man carving letters into half of a tree lying in his shop and the tiny low ceilinged store, seemed like they’d all jumped out of a creepy fantasy novel.
Apart from these small, wondrous and random shops, Ochiai street consists mainly of restaurants and eateries. So why not try some famous Nakanojo Soba and see if the interior is just as thrilling as it’s exterior.
Whether day or night, this place is simply amazing to stroll though. It’s a real life fantasy that’s can turn dark on you, and a place that’s bound to inspire a good few stories.
Stock up on your vitamins and minerals at a free, public hot spring
There’s nothing I like more than free stuff, except for perhaps Onsens (and cake). Kawara no Yu (Kawara hot springs), just in front of Shima Onsen bus stop, is not only quaint and timelessly stylish from the outside, but it is also a free hot spring separated by gender, open from 9am – 3pm. You do have to be naked in this hot spring but, in all honesty, I think the people of Nakanojo are no strangers to nakedness, considering they bathe naked in open, naturally warmed rivers. And why not?
The water surrounding Shima Onsen village contains rich quantities of sodium, calcium, chloride, sulphate and an abundance of other impressive vitamins and minerals to seep into your skin. Replenish your body with free goodness and reap all the health benefits. It’s also suitable for drinking, so you too can cure yourself of illness and pain.
Cure all your diseases at Hinatami Yakushido
In Japan, a buddha named, Yakushi Rurikou Nyorai was said to be able to cure all illnesses and save people from pains. This particular shrine to the god was built for Sanada Izu no Kami Nobuyuki (governor of Izu provence) in 1598 for luck and fortune in his upcoming battles. It now stands as remarkable piece of national important cultural property and has done since 1912.
Gomuso no Yu is a public bath house located just to the left of the shrine. Remarkably, this place is said to heal 40,000 illnesses, which is perhaps more illnesses than you could possibly think of. So, if you have an illness and you are available between the hours of 9am-3pm, take a dip in the rich vitamin and mineral filled waters and cure all your pains. This particular public bath is divided into genders.
The village becomes the fantasy: Inspiring ‘Spirited Away’ by Studio Ghibli
I’ve probably saved the best until last, particularly for all those Studio Ghibli fans out there, and when you set your eyes upon the masterpiece, you can definitely see why this is the crowning glory of Shima Onsen.
It’s beautiful. Before I even knew what I was looking for, it struck me in all it’s archaic, majestic glory. And even though it was undergoing some slight renovations at the time I visited, it didn’t really distract from the beauty that I saw. It was unlike anything I’d witnessed in japan before. The architecture was old but not in a traditionally Japanese way, and I have seen a fair few old Japanese buildings in my time. This was something new and wildly unexpected. For these reasons, Sekizenkan is a symbol of Shima Onsen village and is the Ryokan that inspired the style and imagery in one of the most popular anime movies in the world, ‘Spirited Away’. Given all that I have been saying about the stories and imagination surrounding the whole village, I am not at all surprised. The whole place is a fantasy and this is quite simply the icing on the cake.
The Maeshin is a three story building built in 1930, consisting of a bath house on the first floor and joined to the Mukoshin with the most awe-inspiring, Harry Potter-styled, rickety old bridge (Roka Bashi) I’ve ever seen. The Maeshin features arched windows with Taisho romanesque architecture and constructed with reinforced concrete. At night, you can see the steam rising mysteriously from the bottom of the building, creating ominous, spiraling smoke drifting through the orange glow from the nearby lamps.
Let’s not forget about the nature!
Shima Onsen village is a rare, untouched beauty in Japan. I couldn’t see a single convenience store in sight and I recognised nothing of any familiarity (except vending machines), which is exactly what you want from your break from the busy Tokyo life. The whole village is under the watchful eyes of gorgeous mountains and accompanied by the soft flowing of the bright turquoise river. If you take a stroll, you’ll uncover more bridges, unique houses, random fancy toilets in the middle of nowhere, creepy forest entrances, tonnes of abandoned sheds and even random waterfalls (such as Koizumi falls). And, since Shima Onsen village aren’t ones to shout too loudly about their amazing features, it honestly feels as though you are discovering things for the first time. So go to Shima Onsen Village, explore and get inspired!